UD students, professors make global connections in Brazil

October 2, 2013 under CANR News

UD students travel to UFLAFour University of Delaware students from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) spent time this summer interning in Brazil at the University of Lavras (UFLA), immersing themselves in the Brazilian culture and taking part in experiential learning with the hope of establishing connections for future collaborations with the institution.

The students were able to study in Brazil thanks to funds provided by a three-year, $150,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and International Science and Education program awarded to CANR and the College of Arts and Sciences in 2011.

The students who went on the trip were Jacqueline Hoban, a junior studying wildlife conservation and entomology, and recent UD graduates Melanie Allen, who studied wildlife conservation, Sara Laskowski, ecology, and Sarah Thorne, animal science.

Laskowski said that in addition to learning about the research underway at UFLA and networking to globalize UD, the students were fully immersed in the culture as they all lived with Brazilian doctoral or undergraduate students and tried their best to speak Portuguese.

Laskowski, who stayed in Brazil for two months, said that her favorite part of the experience was “the people I met. I made really great friends who I hope to stay in contact with for a long time. I hope to go back and I’m looking into possibly getting a master’s degree in the Amazon region. I love it.”

She also said that she enjoyed sitting in on various classes, talking with professors, seeing new species of birds and insects, and learning about new plants on a day-to-day basis.

Laskowski said that traveling and studying abroad “gives you a new perspective on life. UD has a lot of great opportunities through the study abroad program, which gives students an opportunity to step outside of their roles and really see how other people live.”

Hoban explained that the interns had worked for a year before heading to Brazil to help build longstanding academic programs and research partnerships with UFLA that will enhance the international nature of curricula in areas of common interest, such as food security, bioenergy, animal agriculture and biodiversity.

“Most of my classes were plant based and I worked with plant pathologists and learned a lot about coffee, because that’s their big crop,” Hoban said. She also studied how her Brazilian colleagues “deal with different pathogens and how we would deal with any pathogens that would come from Brazil, or have come from Brazil, to the United States.”

Hoban said that she enjoyed traveling to Rio de Janeiro and exploring UFLA’s new coffee science department.

Having been on study abroad trips to Cambodia and Vietnam before heading to Brazil, Hoban explained that traveling and studying abroad “makes you realize how big the world really is and how different it is. When you read about another country, you’re not really getting a full view of their perspective. Seeing how Brazilians feel about Brazil, how Brazilians feels about the United States, it broadens your mind.”

Professorial experience

The students were also supervised by a faculty team that included Sue Barton, associate professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences and a Cooperative Extension specialist; Carl Schmidt, professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences and associate professor of biological sciences; Greg Shriver, associate professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology; and Angelia Seyfferth, assistant professor in Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

Barton traveled to Brazil for five days, and explained that she went for a number of reasons, among them to touch base with the UD students and provide them with the opportunity to do things like travel to Inhotim, a 5,000-acre botanic garden and contemporary art museum located two hours from the city Belo Horizonte.

As a professor who teaches plants and human culture, Barton also spent time with an ornamental horticulture professor from UFLA, driving around and looking at the typical city landscape in Brazil. Most of the plots in the city had very little room to landscape or walls that hid their interiors for security purposes, and because of this, people were not able to landscape the area in front of their homes. Barton was able to see a gated community, however, that eliminated the security issue with the gate at the entrance and that looked relatively similar to a high end American urban or suburban development.

Barton was also able to meet with forestry officials who showed her a number of urban forestry projects. “They’re very advanced in the way they’re using computers — like tablets — to collect data and they’re trying to completely catalogue all the trees in Belo Horizonte, which is a city about two hours away from Lavras,” said Barton.

She explained that the officials are gathering data on each tree and the possible problems that trees face in an urban environment — such as wires near the trees — and that they are hoping “to get a handle on the full range of the trees in the city and then continue to track that over time.”

Schmidt went to Brazil to support the students and to conduct research as part of a $4.7 million National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) climate change grant for a project titled “Adapting Chicken Production to Climate Change Through Breeding.” The project looks at identifying genes that help chickens survive on different diets, in different climates and facing different disease challenges.

Having already sampled birds in Uganda, Schmidt said that it was very beneficial to be able to get genetic samples from birds in Brazil, as well.

“I’m very interested in pursuing worldwide genetic diversity in chickens because they’re in all sorts of different environments — they’re pretty much anywhere you find people,” said Schmidt.

Aiding Schmidt in his research work were Janet DeMena, a research associate in CANR, and Allison Rogers, a master’s degree student in CANR.

When it came time to head to campus and help the students, Schmidt quickly realized that the students were very self-motivated. He was, however, more than happy to accompany them on their trip to Rio de Janeiro.

“The people at UFLA were great and we were working pretty hard the whole time we were there, but I have to admit, it was nice to have a break in Rio,” said Schmidt.

Having been to UFLA during spring break, Schmidt had already set up connections with faculty at the institution in anticipation of this trip, and he will now have two Brazilian graduate students from the university travel to UD to spend a year here starting this month.

Article by Adam Thomas

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UD awarded $1.5 million USDA grant to study lima beans

January 11, 2013 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

Researchers from UD study lima beansDelaware is currently the number two producer of lima beans in the United States, second only to California and with the possibility of becoming number one in the future.

Because of this, it is imperative to study the many aspects of various diseases affecting the crop in Delaware and throughout the mid-Atlantic region.

Such work requires a collaborative effort and a team has been assembled thanks to a five-year, $1.5 million U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Specialty Crop Research Initiative grant.

The grant awarded to the University of Delaware includes researchers from UD, Delaware State University, the University of Maryland, Ohio State University, Cornell University and the University of California Davis (UC Davis) who will begin studying the various effects of plant disease on lima beans in the First State.

The many aspects of this grant will include studies that are being conducted for the first time in history.

There are six components to the grant, each with various researchers studying different parts of the problem. They are conducting research on downy mildew, pod blight, white mold, root knot nematodes and germplasm resources and developing an economic analysis.

Downy mildew

Downy mildew is a fungal-like disease of the lima bean caused by Phytophthora phaseoliand the goal of the research team is to improve disease forecasting and look at genetic diversity of the population of the pathogen. In this way, researchers will be able to inform farmers of their risk of occurrence of the disease and have a better understanding of the genetics of the pathogen.

Tom Evans and Nicole Donofrio, professors of plant pathology in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences in UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Nancy Gregory, plant diagnostician for UD, will work together on this part of the project.

Pod blight

Pod blight is caused by the pathogen known as P. capsici and Gordon Johnson, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences at UD, will work on this part of the study with Evans and Gregory.

Unlike downy mildew, which is a disease that generally affects only lima beans, P. capsicihas a very wide host range. Once it strikes a particular crop, it is very difficult to get rid of, with pathogen’s spores lasting up to 10 years in the soil. Because of this, pod blight is an increasing problem for growers. The disease occurs in low-lying areas of fields and is more frequent in wet years. Therefore, this part of the project has three goals: to look for a fungicide to deal with the disease, to monitor the disease, and to look for alternative or organic non-pesticide driven strategies for control.

The study is also looking at risk management strategies, including information for growers in the state about the best time to spray for disease control and consideration of alternate control strategies.

Gregory, who diagnoses field samples collected by the research team and growers, maintains cultures of the pathogens and produces  the inoculum for the studies, said that the researchers are eager to “learn more about the epidemiology and the spread of pod blight and downy mildew, that will enable us to do a little bit better job on forecasting.”

She also noted how great is to have so many expert researchers involved, noting that she is looking forward to making significant progress on problems that have plagued the region for years. “To pull together a strong team of researchers like this and many new graduate students is really going to pull a lot of this research together and we’ll really come up with some great results.”

White mold

Kate Everts, an adjunct associate professor of plant and soil sciences at UD and a Cooperative Extension specialist with both UD and the University of Maryland, is leading research on alternative ways to control white mold, another disease that is very difficult to eliminate.

With an even broader host range than P. capsici, and an even longer life — persisting in soils for 20-30 years — finding out as much about the disease as possible, as well as possible ways to control it, is imperative.

Everts will look not just at lima beans but other crops, as well, as she tests biological control strategies and alternative control strategies for dealing with the white mold.

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CANR Summer Institute starts scholars on road to success

August 23, 2012 under CANR News

As the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Summer Institute comes to a close, this year’s participants, Bianca Riddick and Walker Jones, are heading home having completed research projects and gotten a feel for the UD campus.

“I think it’s going to be bittersweet,” said Riddick. “I’m going to miss it when I’m ready to go home. It’s grown on me.”

The 10-week Summer Institute is designed for underrepresented populations of undergraduate students who have an interest in pursuing graduate degrees in the agricultural and natural resource sciences. It is intended to provide these students with an opportunity to learn about the varied and exciting opportunities available in graduate education at the college.

Bianca Riddick

Riddick, who will be a junior at Norfolk (Va.) State University as a pre-med student majoring in biology with a minor in chemistry, said that her time at the Summer Institute was instructive as she conducted research for the first time on a subject out of her normal area of study: rice.

“I never thought I’d be working with rice,” said Riddick. “I really don’t care too much for rice, but some people depend on rice so it’s good to contribute to the research of this disease.”

The disease in question is known as “rice blast” and Riddick studied the interaction between the rice blast fungus and a bacterium that has the potential to be a bio-control agent for the disease. Specifically, Riddick looked at a handful of fungal genes in rice blast to see how they react — if they turn on or off — to the bacterium in order to get a better idea of how the disease-causing agent is defending itself against the bio-control agent.

The reason behind looking for a bio-control solution to the rice blast problem is that it has the potential to be more cost efficient and environmentally friendly than applying pesticides.

Riddick is studying in the laboratory of Nicole Donofrio, who said that she has been amazed at how quickly Riddick picks things up, especially since this is her first time conducting research.

Donofrio, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, said of Riddick, “she is one of those people who just gets it. A lot of people, when they first start research, and this was the case with me too when I was an undergrad, have a pretty shallow learning curve. I had to make a lot of mistakes and Bianca is a rare student because she retains all of this information we’re throwing at her on the first try.”

Donofrio said that she has been so impressed with Riddick this year that she is going to ask her to come back next summer.

Riddick said that she has really enjoyed her time at the Summer Institute, calling it “a really good experience. It has everything laid out for you, you just have to come here and give your time. And I think that it’s a really good eye-opener.”

She also said that she has enjoyed the UDairy Creamery, with her favorite flavor being Cookies and Cream.

Walker Jones

Like Riddick, Jones also had to conduct research in an area outside of his wheelhouse.

As a senior at Virginia State University, Jones studies agricultural business and economics, but he spent the summer with Kent Messer helping him conduct a study on how beachgoers at Cape Henlopen and Rehoboth Beach would behave if there were offshore energy production providing renewable or lower energy costs but also affecting the aesthetics of the beach.

While conducting a study on the beach may sound like a summer job that is every undergraduate’s dream, Messer explained that Jones’ job was tougher than it sounds.

“This is actually really hard work. Going to the beach sounds really fun until you spend six days standing on the beach being told, ‘No, we will not participate in your study.’ And it’s 95 degrees, and you’re sweating and your relief is that you get to go hang out inside of a tent,” said Messer, associate professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics.

Messer said that Jones was integral in getting the study conducted, as he conversed directly with state officials from the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, getting the permission for the group to set up their tent at Cape Henlopen. Messer credited Jones with securing a “great spot” for the research project and said that it was a huge help to be able to give Jones such a high level of responsibility.

The research project involved having a computer simulation show participants images of wind turbines and oil drilling platforms as options for offshore energy. The participants were able to move the turbines or platforms closer or farther away from the beach, with the idea being that the closer the objects got, especially the wind turbines, the energy costs would be lower but the aesthetics of the beach would be affected.

Jones said that the group found that more people were open to the idea of having wind turbines present and closer to the shore, rather than oil platforms. “The (Gulf of Mexico) oil spill tragedy is still ringing true with some people and they don’t want that to happen again so when they see the picture of an oil platform they’d say, ‘No, I don’t like it,’” said Jones.

Jones said that he has enjoyed his time at UD, especially the fact that there are so many researchers on campus conducting a wide range of research in different departments.

He also said that he “really enjoyed how cooperative things went here, and how easily approachable the administration is around here.”

Tom Sims, CANR deputy dean and the T.A. Baker Professor of Plant and Soil Science, said that the Summer Institute was launched four years ago to “provide outstanding students such as Walker and Bianca with the opportunity to work with faculty mentors and learn more about graduate education in the agricultural and natural resource sciences.”

Sims continued that many of the 16 Summer Institute participants have “since entered graduate or professional schools both at UD and other top graduate programs. I’m sure that Walker’s exposure to the exciting new field of experimental economics and Bianca’s experiences in plant molecular biology have better prepared them for similar opportunities — we wish them well and look forward to continuing to work with similar dedicated students in the future.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley and courtesy Kent Messer

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Professors, students travel to UFLA; interns selected for collaborative work

April 24, 2012 under CANR News

Three professors and two graduate students from the University of Delaware spent spring break in Brazil, visiting the University Federal de Lavras (UFLA) campus, strengthening the academic and cultural bonds between the two universities and taking in the sites and sounds of the South American nation.

In addition, four UD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) undergraduate students have been selected for an opportunity to develop international teaching modules in conjunction with professors and students at UFLA and UD, and to visit this University in 2013.

About the UFLA trip

During the spring break trip, the UD delegation spent its time meeting with faculty from UFLA, touring the facilities, teaching classes and taking trips to remote locations ranging from waterfalls to biodiesel factories. They were escorted by Eduardo Alves and Antonia dos Reis Figueira, both professors of plant pathology at UFLA.

Greg Shriver, assistant professor in CANR’s Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology, said he found it to be a very informative trip and found that much of the research being conducted by entomologists at UFLA is similar to research under way at UD.

Talking with Jùlio Louzada, the head of UFLA’s applied ecology department, Shriver said, “They actually have a forest fragmentation study going on in and around Lavras, which is a lot like the study we have going on in and around Newark.”

Shriver and Zach Ladin, a CANR doctoral student, were able to visit part of the Cerrado, a vast tropical savannah ecoregion near the UFLA campus where the study is taking place, and said that the two universities hope to collaborate on their studies regarding dung beetles.

Nicole Donofrio, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, said she was impressed by the campus, noting that “the academic buildings are gorgeous and equipped with an impressive array of new research equipment,” and added that the trip was crucial in providing strong connections between the two universities for the coming years.

“One of the goals was to make more connections and try to find additional links for people to have ‘sandwich students’ here in the next two years,” Donofrio said. Sandwich students refers to a program established between the universities in which UFLA doctoral students spend one year studying at UD that is “sandwiched” between their studies at UFLA.

Donofrio and Emily Alff, a CANR master’s student, taught a class on fungal transformation for the UFLA students. Alff said that being on the UFLA campus was a tremendous experience. “All the research they do is so applied,” she said. “It really makes you think about the bigger picture of research as a whole.” She added that the food and climate were perfect, saying, “Brazil is just a gorgeous country.”

Tom Powers, assistant professor of philosophy in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS) and director of UD’s Center for Science, Ethics and Public Policy, said he was impressed by a UFLA practice in which they try to “leave nothing behind.”

Powers joined Donofrio and Alff on a visit to UFLA’s model biodiesel and bioethanol plant, located on the campus. “They use the water from the roof and the parking lot to run a lot of the processes,” he said, adding, “They use everything from, or have the potential to use everything from, fish guts to waste from sugar cane and castor beans. So, in terms of using all of these materials for the production of biofuels, it’s really astounding. And then what they don’t make into biodiesel they make into soap and everything else. They’re really trying to find some use for every byproduct in the production process.”

About the Brazil internships

Four CANR student interns have been chosen for an opportunity to conduct research and teach courses at UFLA.

The four interns who have been chosen for the project are:

  • Sarah Thorne, a junior;
  • Sara Laskowski, a junior;
  • Jacqueline Hoban, a freshman; and
  • Melanie Allen, a junior.

The internship will run from April 2012 through June 2013, with the interns supervised by UD faculty teams.

Hoban said she is looking forward to getting to travel to Brazil, and “excited about getting to work with a lot of interesting people and learning about a wide variety of research topics.” Hoban said that the internship “appealed to me not only because of the exciting travel opportunity, but also because it seemed like a really interesting way to apply the material that I have been studying in class.  The project gives me a different perspective on the subjects that I am interested in learning about. It also opens my mind to the educational aspect of my fields of study.”

Hoban added, “Everyone on the team seems like they have a lot of passion for their research and I cannot wait to work with them.”

The project is led by a faculty team from CANR and CAS and is intended to help build longstanding academic programs and research partnerships with UFLA that will enhance the international nature of curricula in areas of common interest, such as food security, bioenergy animal agriculture and biodiversity.

The project will also aim to stimulate creative thinking in the students who participate about how to develop innovative solutions to complex global agricultural and environmental problems.

There will be a curriculum enhancement portion of the internship, where students will assist faculty on both a part time and eventually a full time basis, and an experiential learning aspect, where the students will travel to Brazil for up to four weeks with UD faculty.

The interns will be responsible for developing a minimum of two teaching modules per course, and the modules will consist of PowerPoint presentations or other innovative learning methods that provide detailed information on the course topics developed by the interns and their faculty advisers.

This new research and teaching project is supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s International Science and Education Program.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily

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CANR researchers team up to combat lima bean disease

February 3, 2011 under CANR News, Cooperative Extension

When battling downy mildew, a potentially devastating disease that strikes lima beans (Phaseolus lunatus), one of Delaware’s most important vegetable crops, assembling a team of experts to attack the problem from all angles is a must. That’s why a diverse group of plant scientists in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources has joined together to battle this important plant disease.

Tom Evans, professor of plant pathology in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, and many graduate students have studied downy mildew over the past 15 years.

Evans said lima beans are vital to agriculture in Delaware and are “the cornerstone of the state’s processing vegetable industry.” Approximately 6,000 hectares of baby lima beans are grown annually, with a farm value of over $6 million. If lima bean cannot be grown profitably in the state, then many other processing vegetables would not be grown due to the economics of processing.

Downy mildew, caused by the fungus-like organism Phytophthora phaseoli, is prevalent in Delaware because it thrives in humid conditions, and lima beans are grown on small, dense acreage. Evans said that most lima bean growers are concentrated in close proximity from Dover to Georgetown and from the Delaware Bay west into Maryland, so wind-driven rain makes it easier for the pathogen’s sporangia to move from one lima bean field to another.

That was the case in 2000, when downy mildew caused $3 million damage in what Evans called “the largest downy mildew of lima bean epidemic ever recorded.” Two factors contributing to this epidemic were the emergence of a new race of the pathogen, Race F, which overcame the genetic resistance of lima cultivars being grown, and frequent wind-driven rain that spread the pathogen’s sporangia.

With the emergence of Race F, growers could no longer rely on downy mildew resistant lima bean cultivars to prevent the disease, as they had in the past. New cultivars with resistance to Race F need to be developed and in the meantime growers have relied upon fungicides to manage the disease.

Bob Mulrooney, extension specialist in plant pathology, has tested fungicides for effectiveness against downy mildew for a number of years and has identified new more environmentally-friendly chemicals which offer good control. Mulrooney’s research results are the basis for growers’ current downy mildew management practices.

Evans and his group have been responsible for studying the biology of the pathogen, monitoring the evolution of new races of the pathogen and the epidemiology of the disease.

Extension associate Nancy Gregory diagnoses the disease on samples sent in by growers, maintains the pathogen in culture for field and greenhouse experiments, and determines their races.

Emmalea Ernest, an extension associate at the Carvel Research and Education Center in Georgetown, Del., breeds lima bean for desirable traits, such as disease and drought resistance, and is developing cultivars for Delaware farmers. Ernest and Evans work together screening lima bean germplasm from around the world for resistance to races E and F of P. phaseoli. Ernest has conducted experiments to determine how the resistance genes are inherited. After making crosses between resistant parents followed by several years of field screening, Evans and Ernest are testing lima bean lines with resistance to both races this summer.

Nicole Donofrio, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, is responsible for the pathogen side of the study, trying to understand the pathogen’s virulence mechanisms, and how it evolves to attack certain aspects of the plant. Donofrio said, “In order to fight the disease, you have to know your enemy, and the more you know your enemy, the more equipped you are to tackle it when things like a new race emerge.”

Knowing exactly how to fight against the disease from a pathogen standpoint is difficult. Donofrio points out that P. phaseoli has over 500 effector genes, molecules that bind to a protein altering its activity and enabling infection. To study effectors, Donofrio and doctoral student Sridhara Kunjeti took a two-pronged approach. First, they took what they knew about P. infestans, the pathogen responsible for the Irish potato famine and a close relative of P. phaseoli, and searched for similar genes in P. phaseoli to determine if it used similar mechanisms in its attack on lima bean.

Next, they looked at lima beans that had been infected for three and six days to see which effectors were active during those time-points of infection. Donofrio said this could lead to a breakthrough because if they are able to characterize the effector genes, they can look for traits that could be a countermeasure to pathogen attack and thereby block pathogenesis.

Randy Wisser, assistant professor of plant and soil sciences, works on aspects of quantitative genetics and plant breeding and Blake Meyers, Edward F. and Elizabeth Goodman Rosenberg Professor and chair of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, works on genomics of lima bean-downy mildew interactions.

In various combinations, the research team has received over $200,000 from various CANR seed grants and Delaware state grants to more fully explore P. phaseoli and downy mildew.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed online on UDaily by clicking here.

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UD researcher battles rice blast disease to protect food supply

March 3, 2010 under CANR News

A University of Delaware scientist is waging an important battle to help protect a major resource in the world’s food supply from a devastating fungal disease known as rice blast.  Nicole Donofrio, assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences at the University of Delaware, said rice blast disease affects foods that many developing countries depend on, such as rice, as well as other members of the grass family including rye, wheat and barley.

Read the full story here on UDaily.

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